US airman who disarmed train gunman to receive Purple Heart

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A U.S. airman who helped disarm a gunman on a Paris-bound train last month will receive a Purple Heart medal, the U.S. Air Force leader said on Monday, in an unusual award of the honor to a serviceman wounded while not in a combat zone.

Spencer Stone, 23, will receive the medal, which is given to troops wounded or killed in action against a U.S. enemy, U.S. Air Force Secretary Deborah James said in remarks at the Air Force Association Conference.

Stone, National Guardsman Alek Skarlatos and Anthony Sadler, a civilian, were vacationing in Europe last month when they saw a gunman on board a train from Amsterdam to Paris armed with a box cutter, a pistol, and a Kalashnikov AK-47 assault rifle.

They have said they had no choice but to intervene when the gunman cocked the rifle. Stone, whose thumb was almost severed by the attacker, has been credited with saving the life of another passenger who had been shot.

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US airman who disarmed train gunman to receive Purple Heart
Crime and forensic investigators stand on a platform next to a Thalys train of French national railway operator SNCF at the main train station in Arras, northern France, on August 21, 2015. A gunman opened fire on a train travelling from Amsterdam to Paris, injuring three people before being overpowered by passengers, French state rail company SNCF and rescue services said. Two of the victims were seriously injured and at least one suffered gunshot wounds, an SNCF spokesman said, adding that the assailant was armed with guns and knives. The motives behind the attack were not immediately known. AFP PHOTO / PHILIPPE HUGUEN (Photo credit should read PHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty Images)
An injured man is carried away on a stretcher from the train station of Arras, northern France, after being injured on August 21, 2015 when a gunman opened fire on a train travelling from Amsterdam to Paris. A heavily armed man opened fire on a high-speed train travelling from Amsterdam to Paris on August 21, injuring at least two people before being overpowered by passengers. AFP PHOTO / STRINGER (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)
Police arive to inspect the crime scene inside a Thalys train of French national railway operator SNCF at the main train station in Arras, northern France, on August 21, 2015. A gunman opened fire on a train travelling from Amsterdam to Paris, injuring three people before being overpowered by passengers, French state rail company SNCF and rescue services said. Two of the victims were seriously injured and at least one suffered gunshot wounds, an SNCF spokesman said, adding that the assailant was armed with guns and knives. The motives behind the attack were not immediately known. AFP PHOTO / PHILIPPE HUGUEN (Photo credit should read PHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty Images)
Police work on a platform next to a Thalys train of French national railway operator SNCF at the main train station in Arras, northern France, on August 21, 2015. A gunman opened fire on a train travelling from Amsterdam to Paris, injuring three people before being overpowered by passengers, French state rail company SNCF and rescue services said. Two of the victims were seriously injured and at least one suffered gunshot wounds, an SNCF spokesman said, adding that the assailant was armed with guns and knives. The motives behind the attack were not immediately known. AFP PHOTO / PHILIPPE HUGUEN (Photo credit should read PHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty Images)
Rescue workers are seen on a platform at the main train station in Arras, northern France, on August 21, 2015. A gunman opened fire on a train travelling from Amsterdam to Paris, injuring three people before being overpowered by passengers, French state rail company SNCF and rescue services said. Two of the victims were seriously injured and at least one suffered gunshot wounds, an SNCF spokesman said, adding that the assailant was armed with guns and knives. (Photo by PHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty Images)
A Thalys train of French national railway operator SNCF stands at the main train station in Arras, northern France, on August 21, 2015. A gunman opened fire on a train travelling from Amsterdam to Paris, injuring three people before being overpowered by passengers, French state rail company SNCF and rescue services said. Two of the victims were seriously injured and at least one suffered gunshot wounds, an SNCF spokesman said, adding that the assailant was armed with guns and knives. The motives behind the attack were not immediately known. (Photo by PHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty Images)
French police and train personnel stand outside the main train station in Arras, northern France, on August 21, 2015. A gunman opened fire on a train travelling from Amsterdam to Paris, injuring three people before being overpowered by passengers, French state rail company SNCF and rescue services said. Two of the victims were seriously injured and at least one suffered gunshot wounds, an SNCF spokesman said, adding that the assailant was armed with guns and knives. The motives behind the attack were not immediately known. (Photo by PHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty Images)
French police stand inside the main train station in Arras, northern France, on August 21, 2015. A gunman opened fire on a train travelling from Amsterdam to Paris, injuring three people before being overpowered by passengers, French state rail company SNCF and rescue services said. Two of the victims were seriously injured and at least one suffered gunshot wounds, an SNCF spokesman said, adding that the assailant was armed with guns and knives. The motives behind the attack were not immediately known. (Photo by PHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty Images)
Police inspect a crime scene inside a Thalys train of French national railway operator SNCF at the main train station in Arras, northern France, on August 21, 2015. A gunman opened fire on a train travelling from Amsterdam to Paris, injuring three people before being overpowered by passengers, French state rail company SNCF and rescue services said. Two of the victims were seriously injured and at least one suffered gunshot wounds, an SNCF spokesman said, adding that the assailant was armed with guns and knives. The motives behind the attack were not immediately known. AFP PHOTO / PHILIPPE HUGUEN (Photo credit should read PHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty Images)
Crime investigators look into the window of a Thalys train of French national railway operator SNCF at the main train station in Arras, northern France, on August 21, 2015. A gunman opened fire on a train travelling from Amsterdam to Paris, injuring three people before being overpowered by passengers, French state rail company SNCF and rescue services said. Two of the victims were seriously injured and at least one suffered gunshot wounds, an SNCF spokesman said, adding that the assailant was armed with guns and knives. The motives behind the attack were not immediately known. AFP PHOTO / PHILIPPE HUGUEN (Photo credit should read PHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty Images)
An ambulance stands outside the main train station in Arras, northern France, on August 21, 2015. A gunman opened fire on a train travelling from Amsterdam to Paris, injuring three people before being overpowered by passengers, French state rail company SNCF and rescue services said. Two of the victims were seriously injured and at least one suffered gunshot wounds, an SNCF spokesman said, adding that the assailant was armed with guns and knives. (Photo by PHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty Images)
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France awarded the three Americans and a Briton with the country's highest honor, the Legion d'honneur, for helping to disarm the man.

Authorities have identified the gunman as suspected Islamist militant Ayoub el Khazzani, 26, of Morocco. The man's lawyer said he only intended to rob people on board the train because he was hungry. The top Paris prosecutor said last month that he had opened an investigation into "attempted murder with terrorist intent."

The decision to award Stone the Purple Heart is unusual because his wounds were received in a non-combat setting, although such awards are not unprecedented.

In past years Purple Hearts have been awarded to wounded survivors and relatives of those killed in the 2009 shooting rampage by an Army psychiatrist at the Fort Hood Army base in Texas, and to those wounded in connection with the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

Congress inserted language into the National Defense Authorization Act of 2015 expanding the eligibility for the Purple Heart by stating it should cover an attack if the perpetrator was in communication with foreign terrorists or inspired by one.

Skarlatos will receive the Soldiers Medal, the U.S. Army's highest non-combat medal, while Sadler will receive the Secretary of Defense Medal for Valor, awarded to civilians, Captain Jeff Davis said on Monday.

In addition to the Purple Heart, Stone will receive the Airman's Medal, the Air Force's highest non-combat award for bravery. The medals will be awarded at a ceremony at the Pentagon this week.

Look back at the hero passengers:

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France train attack - hero passengers
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US airman who disarmed train gunman to receive Purple Heart
(From L) US ambassador to France Jane Hartley, off-duty US servicemen Spencer Stone, Anthony Sadler and Alek Skarlatos smile during a press conference at the US embassy in Paris on August 23, 2015, two days after 25-year-old Moroccan Ayoub El-Khazzani opened fire on a Thalys train travelling from Amsterdam to Paris, injuring two people before being tackled by several passengers including off-duty American servicemen. AFP PHOTO / THOMAS SAMSON (Photo credit should read THOMAS SAMSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Off-duty US serviceman Alek Skarlatos looks on during a press conference at the US embassy in Paris on August 23, 2015, two days after 25-year-old Moroccan Ayoub El-Khazzani opened fire on a Thalys train travelling from Amsterdam to Paris, injuring two people before being tackled by several passengers including off-duty American servicemen. AFP PHOTO / THOMAS SAMSON (Photo credit should read THOMAS SAMSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Off-duty US servicemen Spencer Stone (R), Alek Skarlatos (2nd R) and US ambassador to France Jane Hartley (L) arrive to attend a press conference at the US embassy in Paris on August 23, 2015, two days after 25-year-old Moroccan Ayoub El-Khazzani opened fire on a Thalys train travelling from Amsterdam to Paris, injuring two people before being tackled by several passengers including off-duty American servicemen. AFP PHOTO / THOMAS SAMSON (Photo credit should read THOMAS SAMSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Off-duty US Air Force Spencer Stone (L), one of the men to overpower the gunman who opened fire with an assault rifle on a high-speed train, gestures as he leaves the hopistal of Lesquin, northern France on August 22, 2015. On August 21, 2015, a gunman opened fire on the train travelling from Amsterdam to Paris, injuring two people before being tackled by several passengers including off-duty American servicemen. Spencer Stone was first to the gunman who slashed him in the neck and almost sliced off his thumb with a box-cutter. (Photo by PHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty Images)
Anthony Sadler (L), from Pittsburg, California, and Alek Skarlatos from Roseburg, Oregon, hold their medals as they sit in a restaurant after a brief ceremony in the town of Arras, northern France, on August 21, 2015. The American servicemen overpowered a gunman armed with a Kalashnikov who opened fire on a high-speed train travelling from Amsterdam to Paris on August 20, 2015. (Photo by AFP/Getty Images)
Off-duty US Air Force Spencer Stone (L), one of the men to overpower the gunman who opened fire with an assault rifle on a high-speed train, gestures as he leaves the hopistal of Lesquin, northern France on August 22, 2015. On August 21, 2015, a gunman opened fire on the train travelling from Amsterdam to Paris, injuring two people before being tackled by several passengers including off-duty American servicemen. Spencer Stone was first to the gunman who slashed him in the neck and almost sliced off his thumb with a box-cutter. (Photo by PHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty Images)
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